First, a giant round of applause for the ending of 2016: a year which deserved to end.
I say that partially in jest, but mostly alongside the following statement: 2016 was one of the hardest years of my life.
And I think the hardest part was that it was hard in such completely different ways than I'm used to. I'm used to fighting depression (still not easy). I'm used to hearing heavy stories (still heartbreaking). By this point, I'm even used to starting new things and having to learn and adjust on the fly.
But so much of what happened this year was things I'm not used to, especially in the last few months. Hard things happened at my job. Hard things happened in my family. Hard things happened in culture & politics. And all these things happened in ways I didn't expect and in ways that knocked me off my spiritual feet, much of which I'm still in the process of recovering from.
But also in 2016: I started grad school. I launched (the current version of) this site and found community with folks who are pushing for the same things. I made friendships, fought battles, and generally learned a ton. I was even part of a team that launched/hosted a weekly Twitter chat on Christianity & mental health for a few months.
But I don't point those things out to fulfill some Christian quota of painting things with a light brush, I do so with the realization that I have yet to see the redemption of almost a single one of the things I mentioned two paragraphs back. I can't wrap 2016 with a neat bow because almost all of the capital p Problems I can list from the year remain open wounds for me and the people I love.
But isn't that when our Hope becomes real, our Joy becomes genuine?
Because if I hold on to the belief in better things only when things are going well, that's just happiness. But happiness is an emotion, a fleeting experience that is a reaction to circumstances and surroundings. Joy is a white-knuckled determination, a clinging to Truth when life is tossing us around. 'Joy to the world,' we sing, 'the Lord has come!' But that Joy only comes with a triumphant melody because it is entering a broken world. Happiness isn't triumphant precisely because it typically isn't happening in the face of severe pain.
This is what people miss when they tell those fighting mental illness to 'choose joy,' or similar things. The fact that I'm still alive in the darkest parts of my depression is me choosing joy. It doesn't look like happiness because they're distinctly different. And joy has vastly more potential than happiness to be a realistic source of hope. (tweet)
Faith, after all, is assurance in the things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). If we're not allowed to grieve and mourn while clinging to joy, we're just trying to whitewash our pain with fake happiness, trying to fabricate things to see we can be happy about. And hope in things we can see is not hope at all (Romans 8:24).
So we don't need to fake happiness or put a glossy finish on the hard things in order to have joy or hope. In fact, if we do, we can't have joy or hope because joy and hope require the pain and struggle to exist at all. (tweet)